How Does The Concept Of Virginity Apply To Lesbian And Queer Sex?

The 'First Time' can look different for everyone.

‘Losing your virginity’ is something that a lot of us associate with the genital penetration of a penis. It’s an archaic, but relatively unchallenged definition of sex that’s actually so narrow it leaves a lot people’s experiences out all together. Like, what is virginity to people who have lesbian sex?

If you’ve never had to think about what exactly ‘losing your virginity’ means, chances are the sex you’re having (or would like to have) involves a penis. So what if the sex you’re having doesn’t involve the penetration of a penis, or anyone with a penis? How does the concept of virginity apply to lesbian and queer sex?

What Is Virginity?

Before we dive into answering the question of what virginity means in the context of lesbian sex and queer sex, let’s first talk about the cultural and social significance of virginity itself. Technically speaking, virginity is a construct. It was invented by humans and preached as a physical bodily state that changes irreparably once virginity is lost. Which it is not. It has been used to fence off sex as something that should ONLY be had once married, and even then sometimes only for the purpose of conception. Which it is not.

Even beyond the conservative and often religiously-associated ideas of no-sex-until-marriage abstinence, virginity has social consequences in more progressive contexts too. Young women are slut-shamed for having sex ‘too soon’ or ‘too much’, while young boys often experience the opposite pressure: to have sex early and often. Depending on who you are, ‘losing your virginity’ can mean losing virtue or earning clout. That is a malignant result of patriarchal power in action.

So it’s important to consider which ideas about virginity we are taking on board, and which we are leaving at the door before we dive into what it means for lesbian and queer sex. Let’s say we leave the myths about physical change and the gendered social judgments, and just take on virginity as a personal marker of sexual experience. Yes, virginity is a construct, but when it comes down to it, the passage between inexperience and your first sexual encounters can be intimidating, exciting and all kinds of confusing. So it’s worth talking about.

Is Lesbian And Queer Sex Real Sex?

On top of all that social and cultural baggage that goes along with the concept of virginity, lesbian and queer people also have to deal with aspersions cast on whether the sex they’re having is ‘real’ sex.

Losing your virginity has traditionally been defined by the inverse: a male taking it from you. That means that for straight women, gay men, and anyone whose sex involves genital penetration of a penis, the when-did-you-lose-it question has a pretty straight forward answer. 

For lesbian and queer people and anyone whose sexual experience doesn’t involve penetration of a penis, or any penis at all, answers about virginity are more subjective

“I know quite a few queer people who are like ‘I really don’t know. I really don’t know when I lost my virginity, I’m not sure.’” Dr Grace Sharkey, a lecturer in Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney whose research is about queer theory, pornography, love and intimacy, told GOAT in episode one of the Thinking Between The Thighs podcast. “People are kind of like ‘Well…it might have been here, it might have been then, I’m not really sure.’”

“One of the main things I would say, thinking about the virginity as a queer concept in general, is that it might be really individualised.” Dr Sharkey points out. “You know, it sort of might depend on how you feel about it, about how you feel a certain experience might render a kind of first-ness to it.”

Unfortunately, when those queer sexual experiences are forced to fit into a restrictive, heteronormative narrative of ‘losing your virginity’, the discrepencies can mean deciding what ‘counts’ as a first involves some consideration and doubt. 

For Sarah*, a 28-year-old Australian female and bisexual, the concept of virginity has undermined her experience of queer sex and sexuality.

“Somehow sex without a penis can seem less ‘serious’ or ‘real sex’.” She told GOAT. “I had sex with a woman before a man but at the time didn’t think that was losing my virginity. Sex with a penis felt more legitimate.”

The delegitimisation of lesbian sex and anything that isn’t penetrative penis sex pervades even some of the most progressive queer spaces so that people’s answer to when they ‘lost their virginity’ can be “I don’t know” instead of those people feeling empowered to decide for themselves.

It’s also worth considering that some people do not subscribe to the idea that ‘losing their virginity’ is a singular story of one event. Nor do they need to. Some consider their passage into sexual experience as a gradual journey and may not see the concept of virginal first-ness significant enough to have to decide a when and a where.

“Rather than ‘losing virginity’ I think it’s about ‘gaining experience’” suggested Jamie*, a 26-year-old Australian, non-binary and bisexual/pansexual person. “I think people’s ideas about what ‘counts’ as intimacy are so personal and diverse.” They told GOAT.

One thing that Dr Grace Sharkey flags – which is largely missing from the conversations of queer virginity – is that lesbian and queer women know when they’re having sex. In spite of the perceived mystery and confusion when trying to force queer sex into heteronormative narratives, we must not paint lesbian and queer people as a sexually clueless bunch. Because that’s just not the case. 

“You know, I think honestly, for the sort of queer and lesbian women who are having sex across this great country, I don’t think they’re confused. I think they know when they’re having sex.” Dr Sharkey said. “Maybe when they’re young and they’re still figuring things out, there might be, they might have to think about it harder than their straight counterparts. But actually I don’t think that they’re confused about whether or not they’ve had sex or not I think it’s other people. I think it’s people on the outside looking in, who are still kind of invested in the idea that lesbian sex isn’t ‘real’.”

So What Exactly Is Beyond The D**K?

If you need a definition of sex without a penis involved that gets into the nitty gritty, start by just thinking of any and all kinds of touching with the intent of pleasure that can go down between two or more people. It can all be part of sex. Instead of thinking of sex as one specific act, think more holistically about everything that can be involved in the event.

“I struggle to think about sex in those kind of fragmented terms.” Dr Sharkey said of breaking lesbian sex down into a list of acts. “You know, particularly when I think of sex as being this much more complicated transactional, kind of intimate play. You know, and lesbian sex also goes for so long, and it’s all about changing and sharing and are you done yet, should we keep going? And to really sort of dilute to just being the mechanics of hands and mouths seems…it’s just more complicated than that.”

Some specific acts that can be involved in lesbian and queer sex and may be considered virginity-losing might include oral sex, penetration with fingers and hands, manual stimulation of genitals without penetration (eg. focusing on the clitoris), anal play, using penetrative and/or non-penetrative sex toys, scissoring (which is not as popular as lesbian porn would have you believe), and anything else that is considered sex by the people having it. Dry humping could be your thing. Maybe simultaneous masturbation. The world is really your oyster and no one should feel held back by expectations of what sex ‘should’ look like.

Virginity And Lesbian Sex: Where To From Here?

The takeaway here is that if you think you’re having sex, you’re probably having sex and you are empowered to own that. You don’t need to subscribe to the concept of virginity, but it’s ok if you do. Just make sure the way you approach it is inclusive of people who don’t fit the traditional definition of penetrated-by-a-penis sex. 

Dr Sharkey advised that a shift that needs to happen is “making more space for the idea that women and queers kind of know what they’re doing with their bodies, and to believe them when they say what they think.”

“Believing people when they say they’ve had sex I think is really important.” She added.

Basically, queer people know when they’ve had sex and it’s all about legitimising those acts and events as sex, and letting people be empowered to back themselves and call it sex. So when it comes to lesbian and queer sex, virginity still has a place if you want it to. Plus, changing our perspective to look past merely penis penetration as the only sex act that ‘counts’ can open up sex to so much more potential and opportunity to be great.

Lesbian and queer sex is different, but not better or worse. So remember that virginity and sex can be different for everyone, and that doesn’t mean it isn’t real sex.

*Names changed for anonymity.